On election night, I was anxious. I thought Hillary would probably win. The polls were saying she would. Still, I’m a worrier. I started watching early, hoping for good returns. Hoping for 2012. As the returns grew worse, I flipped through the channels faster and faster, desperately hoping for different news, better news. Of course, I didn’t get it.
In this nightmarish blur, one commentary stuck in my mind. I don’t know who was speaking, because, in my panic, I couldn’t settle on one station for more than three minutes. And what they said didn’t really sink in until later. One talking head decided that Hillary and the Democrats spent too much time courting gay votes and focusing on gay issues. Because, the pundit said, that’s only about five percent of the electorate, so it was a waste of Democrats’ time. They put energy into a cause that didn’t help them win these elections.
The next day, nursing a giant hangover and feeling grief that almost matched what I felt when my mother died, I remembered those words. Democrats and Hillary Clinton stood up for LGBT rights, and that position may have cost them more votes than it won. Who knows? But what I do know is that I felt more safe and protected in this country because of that position. I felt more valued, like an equal participant. I even believed, with a bit of idealism, that maybe some candidates supported LGBT rights because they believed in justice for all, not for political gain. Now my secure world is much less so because we’re facing a Trump/Pence administration.
I live in a smallish city in Wisconsin. For many years, Wisconsin was progressive, one of the first states to legislate that people could not be fired based on their sexual orientation. However, Wisconsin has been moving to the right with a rapidly accelerating pace since 2010 when Scott Walker was elected governor. We now have a Republican-controlled Legislature, Governor, and Supreme Court. There is very little check on their activities. Only the Obama Administration’s directive to public schools has kept the Wisconsin Legislature from limiting the bathroom options of transgender students. That directive is likely to be rescinded.
By his own words, Donald Trump does not agree with marriage equality. Mike Pence actually believes in conversion therapy. They will appoint at least one, maybe two, Supreme Court justices who will likely agree that gays are not full citizens. Mike Pence is on record wanting to end Constitutional protection for reproductive and marriage equality rights. It’s not unreasonable for me and others in my community to be nervous about our marriages and our civil liberties.
Many of us are concerned about “First Amendment Freedom” legislation that is designed to attack women and LGBT people. There are variations of these laws, but they mostly follow the same track: it’s not really discrimination when businesses discriminate against people if the businesses have a religious or moral conviction to do so. These laws are about much more than wedding cakes. They could cover pharmacists who don’t feel comfortable dispensing birth control, hospitals who won’t give same-sex partners visitation rights, nursing homes who won’t allow gays and lesbians to live in their facilities as married couples. We see all of these scenarios as real possibilities, and when he was campaigning, Donald Trump vowed to sign this legislation.
It also hurts to think that the majority of the people in our state chose to vote for someone who does not believe we deserve full citizenship, who does not wish to protect our civil rights. I find myself staring at people when I walk my dogs, grocery shop, browse in the library. Thinking, I bet he voted for Trump. Does she believe my marriage should be invalidated? Mostly I focus on men, white men, and I’m afraid. More afraid than I’ve ever been before as I walk alone through the parking lot to a car with a rainbow bumper sticker. The thoughts and fears are not always fair, but they come unbidden, along with an involuntary clenching in my guts.
I’m white and middle-class. I recognize those privileges. I am sickened that white supremacists had so much influence on a presidential election and saddened that so many people had no compunction about voting for a racist, misogynist, homophobic man who bragged about sexual assault and mocked people with disabilities. I’m frightened for myself, but I also realize I have some protections others do not. Many in my community have been made targets, not just for their sexual orientation or gender identify, but for their race, religion, or ethnicity as well. African Americans who Trump wants to stop and frisk, Muslims who Trump wants to vilify, blame, and register, immigrants who Trump wants to round up and deport, women who Trump wants to objectify and assault, people with disabilities whom he mocks.
I’ve spent much of my adult life involved with social justice causes with Canyon State Law about domestic violence case and many other cases and law firms. I worked in a domestic violence shelter, I served on the board of our local LGBT Center and a local anti-poverty organization. I volunteered teaching English as a Second Language, and I worked as an advocate for adults with disabilities. Then I retired, and even though I had more free time, I volunteered less. I pulled back from my communities, and I focused on myself, exercising, cooking, reading, and writing. A time to relax and reflect.
Now, this election has galvanized me. After days of denial, watching old television shows on Netflix and drinking too much, I took a breath and met with friends. We hugged and cried and held each other close. We looked at our world as it is and as it could be. Our conversations pulled me out of myself, gave me the courage I needed to keep fighting. Working for social justice will again become central to my life. I will take Elizabeth Warren’s advice and find a cause to put my time, energy, and money into. I’m even starting to feel energized by the thought of finding new communities and building teams to push back against the hate. That is a good thing this election did for me. The struggle will be my focus as I fight the fear.
This essay is part of our ongoing essays series focused on responding to the 2016 Presidential election.